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Make no mistake: The Atlanta massacre was a hate crime

Seven of the eight victims were the world’s most frequent and perhaps oldest target of hate crimes — women.  

People in Kansas City, Mo., attend a memorial vigil for the victims of the March 16 Atlanta massage parlors shootings on March 28.
AP Photos

It is heartening to see demonstrations across the nation, led by Asian women and supported by all, protesting the xenophobia that has created an uptick in crimes against Asian Americans.

It should, however, be said that whether or not Asians specifically were targeted in the Atlanta area spa attacks on March 16, it was a hate crime, with seven of the eight murder victims being the most frequent and perhaps oldest target of hate crimes — women.

Eternally blamed for a fall from grace by virtually every religion, but particularly in Judeo-Christian culture and teachings, women have long been shunned and often murdered for non-conforming ideas or behavior. We were — and are — stoned for “infidelity,” for loving the wrong person, for refusing to bend to a husband or a father.

We were the vast majority of the estimated 50,000 people burned at the stake as witches not only in Salem but throughout Europe and Africa. We are burned and otherwise killed today for “dishonoring” the family in India, Afghanistan and Africa. We are considered to be temptresses by the fact of our very existence by Orthodox Muslims and Jews, and sexualized, raped and murdered by occupiers in every war — as the “the spoils of war.”

While more men are killed each year throughout the world — in wars, gang fights, robberies and by each other — women are killed almost exclusively by men. According to the United Nations and other world agencies that monitor health and homicides, nearly half of all women killed are not killed by a stranger but by their intimate partner.

According to the UN Study on Homicide, in 2019 approximately 87,000 women were killed world-wide, with 50,000 women a year dying at the hands of intimate partners and family members, mainly through domestic abuse or “honor killings.”

Overall, homicide is committed largely by males, with most of the victims being other males. In 2017, males made up 84% of all offenders and 78% of all homicide victims; However, 78% of all intimate partner homicide victims were female. From 2003 to 2014, the Centers for Disease Control found that approximately 55% of female homicides for which the circumstances were known were related to intimate partner violence.

But it’s not just intimate partners who bear the brunt of male ire. According to Human Rights Pulse, six women are killed every hour by men globally and one in three women are affected by gender-based violence in their lifetime. And it is not just in “less developed nations.” It is easy for many to dismiss these numbers as “about the other” when we read about the hundreds of women who disappeared from the factories of Juarez or those who’ve been the victims of gangs in Honduras or the sex traffickers of Eastern Europe.

And as the uprising of the women in Britain tells us, the United Kingdom is no exception, with one woman killed by a man every three days. That rate of femicide has remained unchanged for over a decade.

We are hardly exempt in the U.S., where all women are vulnerable but Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American and Spanish-speaking women — as well as those who are trans — are in the most danger.

According to statistics from the Violence Policy Center, quoted in an Aug. 28 Teen Vogue article, the “number of women killed in the U.S. has been steadily rising over the last decade, with young women (under 30), Black, women of color and transwomen most disproportionately murdered. And perhaps the least written about but most shocking is the disappearance of nearly 5,800 Native American women in the last year The suspect in the Atlanta shooting blames his ‘sex addiction’ and a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the shooter had a ‘bad day.’”

Let’s call this what it is — absurd. Women in their 80s are raped, as are girls before puberty. It is time for men to stand up and support women, and to acknowledge that rape, blame and murder are all pathologies that men must overcome and the law protects against.

When Justice Clarence Thomas in 2016 made his first utterance from the Supreme Court bench, it was to ask this question of a lawyer who was arguing that those convicted of domestic abuse be denied the right to buy a gun: “Can you give me another example where a misdemeanor suspends a constitutional right permanently?”

It’s time for a change. Domestic violence isn’t a family affair; it’s a crime. Many countries make femicide (the killing of a woman because she’s a woman) a separate crime. It’s time to catch up. It’s time for the U.S. to enact such legislation and make domestic violence more than a misdemeanor.

Yes, those who died in Atlanta were victims of hate crimes — of both misogyny and racism — a lethal combination over centuries.

There is no better time than now to build the movement that will force (or allow) lawmakers to have the courage to act — for women, for Asians, for trans people, for the disappeared — and for all of us who are killed just because of who we are.

Marilyn Katz, a long-time Chicago-based writer, consultant and political activist, is president of MK Communications.

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